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Hybrid versus Virtual Events: making an informed choice

Hybrid versus Virtual Events: making an informed choice

Black and white image of the architecture of the Palazzo degli Affari, Florence, Italy

The hybrid versus virtual event debate was a hot topic at the recent Associations World Congress. This event took place in the enclave of the striking architecture of the newly refurbished Palazzo degli Affari in Florence. (Pictured above.)

It is obvious to all, that in recent years, the events industry has experienced a monumental transformation. Event organizers have been forced to accept and embrace online events; some willingly, some not so. The fact is, a virtual component is now a delegate expectation of any conference or congress worth its salt. It is no longer simply “nice to have”.

But planning events in this new landscape can be complex. Event organisers must make a pivotal decision. Should they opt for hybrid events, blending in-person and virtual components, or go fully virtual?

In this article, we compare these two event formats, to assist you in making the best choice for your audience.

Plenary session at Associations World Congress 2023 hybrid event viewed from the back of the room

Hybrid Events:

Hybrid events present a fusion of the best of both worlds. Seamlessly integrating a face-to-face gathering of people with a virtual experience for those participating remotely. A key advantage is the ability to allow participants to choose to take part in person or remotely. This accessibility and flexibility are highly appealing to delegates and contributors alike, empowering them to engage on their terms.

Moreover, hybrid events extend their impact by being inclusive of individuals who might face travel restrictions or last-minute scheduling conflicts. Their active involvement is enabled through virtual participation. And integrating in-person and virtual networking opportunities can foster connections among attendees from diverse locations, enhancing the experience for all.

The size and nature of your event will significantly influence the viability and suitability of adopting a hybrid format. Large-scale congresses and conferences may be better suited to a hybrid approach than, for example, an intimate round-table workshop.

Organising a successful hybrid event demands efficient planning, careful budget management and experienced technical support to deliver a cohesive and engaging experience to both on-site and remote attendees.

Virtual Events:

In contrast, virtual events take place entirely online, eliminating the need for both a physical venue and travel. This setup offers unparalleled convenience and cost savings for participants and organisers. Unconstrained by a physical presence, online events grant individuals the freedom to join from any corner of the globe. This saves on travel expenses and time, but is also clearly a more environmentally sustainable approach.

The trade off may be missing out on the informal networking that takes place at in-person events. The possibility that at the welcome reception or coffee break, you might bump into that one hard-to-reach person you need to talk to. But, while it is hard to replicate exactly those serendipitous moments online, networking opportunities can still feature. There are now sophisticated tools that offer networking and matchmaking features to enable making meaningful connections despite the virtual setting.

But remember that virtual events are heavily reliant on participants’ at-home or in-office technical setups. Something, over which event organisers have no control. Of course this consideration applies to remote participants at hybrid events as well. Technical and connectivity issues can sometimes disrupt the flow of online events. This may negatively impact remote speakers and the audience’s viewing experience. But, such interruptions are becoming increasingly rare. These challenges can be mitigated through pre-recorded content or investing in professional studio setups. But organisers still need to rely on attendees having stable connections to ensure a seamless event experience.

Choosing the right format:

In the debate of hybrid vs. virtual events, each approach has its merits.

Hybrid events blend the best of both worlds, offering flexibility, diverse networking opportunities, and an inclusive experience. Importantly, they allow people to be more selective of the events they decide to attend in-person.

Virtual events, on the other hand, provide convenience, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness, with the added benefit of a reduced environmental impact.

Your objectives. The event’s scale and scope. The makeup of your target audience. The nature of your content and your budget. All of these need careful consideration in order to make an informed decision as to the right approach. Understanding your attendees’ preferences and accessibility requirements will also guide you towards determining which approach is the right solution.

For further assistance evaluating the benefits of hybrid versus virtual and identifying the ideal fit for your next event, reach out to our team of online event experts. We are here to help you craft an event experience that achieves your objectives and is of lasting benefit to your attendees.

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